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UFC 297 preview: Bad blood between Sean Strickland and Dricus Du Plessis to be settled for middleweight title


Michigan Wolverines
 

During the pay-per-view main card of UFC 296 in December, middleweight champion Sean Strickland and challenger Dricus Du Plessis got into a physical altercation in the crowd and had to be separated. The bad blood between the two fighters will be settled in the Octagon at UFC 297 on Saturday.


The animosity between the 185-pounders may have stemmed from the previous day at the UFC’s seasonal press conference when Du Plessis mentioned Strickland’s abusive childhood. Du Plessis’ comments clearly struck a nerve, as Strickland had to be held back when the two faced off after the press conference concluded. The next night at UFC 296 in Las Vegas, Strickland clearly hadn’t forgotten Du Plessis’ comments.


Sitting two rows behind Strickland, Du Plessis began verbalizing something in Strickland’s direction. Strickland heard Du Plessis, turned around and asked UFC fighter Gilbert Burns’ son to move out of the way. The champion then jumped on Du Plessis and began reigning down punches on the South African’s head. The two men had to be separated and Strickland was escorted out of T-Mobile Arena.





Much to the delight of UFC fans, the two men are able to settle their hostility in the Octagon. Strickland is 28-5 in his MMA career and has won three straight fights, including victories over Nassourdine Imavov and Abusupiyan Magomedov. But the biggest victory of his career, however, came in his last bout when he claimed a unanimous decision victory over former middleweight king Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 in September. Strickland was a massive underdog entering the fight with Adesanya, but he dominated the former champ, as all three judges scored the fight 49-46 in his favor.


Saturday’s middleweight title fight will be the first to not feature Adesanya since Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero to capture the interim title in 2017. Speaking of Whittaker, Du Plessis earned the biggest victory of his career when he knocked out the New Zealander at UFC 290 in July. Du Plessis was also a considerable underdog against Whittaker, but he used his superior skills to shock the former champion en route to victory.





Du Plessis relies on his excellent judo, jiu-jitsu and grappling skills, but he also has plenty of power in his fists. Since arriving in the UFC in 2020, Du Plessis has won all six of his fights, accounting for the longest current win streak in the division. In those six fights, Du Plessis finished all but one of his opponents with notable victories over some of MMA’s most recognizable names, including Whittaker, Trevin Giles, Brad Tavares, Darren Till and Derek Brunson.


In those six UFC fights, Du Plessis secured 50 percent of his takedown attempts, which is the fifth-highest takedown accuracy among active middle weights. However, it won’t be easy getting Strickland to the ground, as the 32-year-old champion has defended 84 percent of his opponent’s takedowns, nearly 20 percent higher than the UFC average.


Strickland, who will defend the title for the first time, is a grinder and methodical striker. He has connected on 1,714 total significant strikes in his UFC career, the seventh-most all-time in the promotion’s history. The Californian showed incredible stamina against Adesanya, but lasting all five rounds with Du Plessis will be a challenge.


Du Plessis is 20-2 in his MMA career and hasn’t lost a fight since 2015. He has finished all but one of his 20 professional victories, and a win on Saturday would crown the 30-year-old as the UFC’s first South African champion. Both fighters have very similar builds, as each stands 6-foot-1 with a 76-inch reach, and the bad blood between them will be settled this weekend at the UFC’s first pay-per-view card of the new year.





The rest of the main card


Co-main event: Women’s bantamweight title bout - No. 2 Raquel Pennington vs. No. 3 Mayra Bueno Silva


Welterweight bout - No. 13 Neil Magny vs. Mike Malott


Middleweight bout - No. 13 Chris Curtis vs. Marc-Andre Barriault


Featherweight bout - No. 3 Arnold Allen vs. No. 9 Movsar Evloev



Prelims


Bantamweight bout - Brad Katona vs. Garrett Armfield


Featherweight bout - Charles Jourdain vs. Sean Woodson


Bantamweight bout - Serhiy Sidey vs. Ramon Taveras


Women’s strawweight bout - Gillian Robertson vs. Polyana Viana



Early prelims


Welterweight bout - Yohan Lainesse vs. Sam Patterson


Women’s flyweight bout - Jasmine Jasudavicius vs. Priscila Cachoeira


Flyweight bout - Malcolm Gordon vs. Jimmy Flick



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